Just thankful to be here: Yuma’s Haines, rebuilt elbow and all, gunning for Turkey Classic wins
Randy Hoeft @ YumaSunSports
If you were to poll the drivers assembled for this weekend’s seventh annual Turkey Classic at Cocopah Speedway, it’s doubtful you would find anyone more thankful than Yuma’s Joe Haines.
After all, it was just over two years ago that Haines was injured in a freak accident at the track, and in the hours afterward was shocked to hear that due to the extend of the damage to his right elbow, most of the arm would have to be amputated.
But Friday night Haines, with his right elbow totally reconstructed, will pull onto the track and do what he still loves to do – race.
“I am thankful to be racing again. It’s something I’m passionate about and love to do!” said Haines this week as he prepared for the Thanksgiving weekend event at the Somerton track. “But really I am thankful I still have my arm.”
He actually returned to racing for the first time in January, roughly 15 months after his accident, in which the drive shaft in his car came loose during a main event, folded up and pierced the driver’s cockpit, striking Haines in the right elbow.
The damage to his elbow was so bad, “They were trying to get rid of it at first,” said Haines, recalling his visit to the emergency room at Yuma Regional Medical Center.
“I am really, really thankful my father (Jeff Haines) was there and told them to transport me to another hospital … It got pretty heated in the moment as my father talked to the doctor in Yuma. I just kept on telling my dad, ‘Don’t let them cut my arm off! Even if it doesn’t work I still want it there.’
“My dad’s my best friend and I’m glad he was there for that! If not the outcome might’ve been a whole lot different.”
Haines was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, where a surgeon underwent the task of rebuilding Haines’ elbow using cadaver bones, metal plates and screws.
Four surgeries later, and after having his elbow re-broken to try and get him more range of movement, Haines admits there was a time when he wasn’t sure if he would ever race again, or if he wanted to.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to do it with all the pain and suffering I was going through at the time,” he said. “But deep down inside I loved to race, it is in my blood and in my heart. Going through all the surgeries sometimes made it where I didn’t want to do it. I had a bunch and I try not to remember them.”
Today, with the help of the staff at Southwest Rehabilitation, he has regained 70 percent of the range of motion in his elbow. Not bad, he said, when his doctor at first told him he might have zero percent.
There were also people close to Haines who advised him to step away from racing.
“There were all sorts of people, telling me to give it up, people all around me. But when you fall off a horse what do you do? You get back on and ride that son of a gun, you don’t let fear take over.
“But I had one person, Jeremy Caldwell, who was always bugging me to get back in the race car and he said I could do it, and it took a lot of convincing but I finally did it.”
That was back on Jan. 16, “And I was a little shaky at first but it came back to me, just like riding a bike,” said Haines.
The car he drove in his return was a loaner. Afterward, although he did not finish the race, Haines felt so confident that he purchased a new car of his own and has been competing regularly in the 2016 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series. He still has not won a feature event, but, “It’s what I love to do.”
Entering the Friday-Saturday show Haines is riding in third place in the series standings, 24 points out of first place.
One of the reasons Haines said he keeps racing is a new found inspiration, his five-year-old son, Zaden.
“It makes it extra special that my son loves to go to the races and loves helping me work on the car. It makes it that much more fun,” said Haines, “when I got him by my side cheering me on, trying to explain to me how to race and he’s only five years old, telling me ‘Daddy you got to be fast again. You’re slow right now, but you’ll get there.’ I love the encouragement from him!”
The holiday weekend show begins Friday with a full schedule of racing in all four of the track’s IMCA divisions – Modified, Stock Car, Sport Modified and Hobby Stock.
Saturday night’s show will be a repeat performance. Racing begins at 7 p.m. both nights.
Because it is a special event which annually attracts a high number of out-of-town racers, the drivers in the Cocopah Speedway Racing Series will not be racing for points.
The defending Turkey Classic champions are Tucson’s R.C. Whiwell and Imperial’s Lance Marin in the IMCA Modified Division; Andy Altenburg, from Truman, Minn., who won the Friday and Saturday night Stock Car features in 2015; Yuma’s Kyle Smith and Brawley’s Sean Callens in the Sport Modified Division; and Yuma’s Leonard Manos, who won both Hobby Stock feature events last year.
After this weekend, the track gears up for the final two races of the 2016 Cocopah Speedway Racing Series, Dec. 3 and Dec. 17.
Cocopah Speedway is located at U.S. 95 and County 15th Street; the general admission gate opens at 5 p.m; first race is at 7 p.m. Tickets are: adults (13 and older) – $15; adult military with ID – $13; senior (55 and over) – $13; children 12 years old and under – free (main grandstand); family pass (two adults, four children) – $38; Skybox – $38; pit pass – $30 (per person). Tickets can also be purchased online at www.cocopahspeedway.com or at Cocopah Wild River or at the main gate on race day. Fans can get live racing lineups during the races and results afterward by going to www.cocopahlive.com. Fans can also access live in-race scoring and lap times by going to mylaps.com. For more information call 344-1563 or go to www.cocopahspeedway.com.